The ground-rules on the following pages are suggestions for building an institutional culture in which
- disputes are less likely to arise
- and are normally resolved quickly and fairly when they do.
Every institution is different and has its own style and ways of doing things, but certain approaches are likely to work well everywhere.
Remember that the institution is not always right
- Don’t take it for granted that you should defend the institution or its senior officers. There may be lessons to be learnt.
- Take a neutral stance at the outset: the complainant’s perception(s) should be treated as ‘their reality’, do not make value judgments’ on the issues being raised
- There may be a win-win solution in everyone’s interests
Look into what has happened impartially and in a way which seeks to build trust with everyone involved
- Establish/clarify the issue(s) raised by the complainant(s) first. This will help set the boundaries/scope for any investigation/report and prevent `obfuscation by creep’, where it turns out that the `real’ problem has become buried and has not been properly addressed
- In a preliminary inquiry listen to both sides in a way that builds trust
- If everyone agrees that it would be helpful to investigate, establish the facts and report within an agreed, realistic and stated timescale, the shorter the better, with the aim of dealing with the problem while it is still relatively straightforward.
- If there is a likelihood that there will need to be a formal ‘adversarial’ process which goes through the institution’s disciplinary, grievance or complaints procedures, do not compromise the possibility of a fair hearing by the way you conduct a preliminary investigation
- If someone in authority (from human resources or the management) interviews all possible witnesses ahead of a hearing/investigation, you are likely to compromise the possibility of a fair hearing.
- Begin by treating the complaint/grievance/disciplinary matter as a ‘quality question’
- What might it indicate about the way the institution is fulfilling its primary purposes of teaching and research?
Appoint a small number of responsible persons rather than allowing a large number of different line-managers to deal with disputes
▪ Ensure that the responsible persons are fully aware of the dispute-resolution procedures of the institution and the possibilities for alternative dispute resolution
▪ Treat the maintenance of the right climate for preventing and resolving disputes as an important managerial skill
▪ Ensure the responsible person has the independence, authority and backing to fulfil the role
▪ The first rule is to ask the consent of the parties before disclosing any information to any other party or to managers in the institution.
▪ It is sensible to seek the agreement of the parties about who they themselves will discuss matters with.
▪ Everyone should be made aware that if something comes to light which there is a duty in law to disclose to the appropriate authorities (such as money-laundering) this information will have to be passed on as the law requires.
▪ Confidentiality about the content of any agreement reached should not be made a condition of the agreement unilaterally. For example, institutions should not routinely include gagging clauses in compromise agreements
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